Changing the Tapes: Oct. 6, 2015*

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I had been doing really well on feeling more peaceful with my body. But today, I had a turn. We went to a party Saturday night, and I saw the photos today. I look big to myself, soft around the top of my halter dress.

What’s so frustrating is that I had felt pretty that night. Not Jennifer Aniston pretty, but me pretty. Hair up in curls, my usual understated makeup, pretty coral shoes. Bam- photos arrive in  my inbox and on Facebook.

So I have spent the afternoon trying to change my talk.

Here are my reminders for today:

No woman in either side of my family is willowy. None. We are all, both maternal and paternal lineage, athletic in build. Some are more fit than others, but none of us has that tall, thin, size 4 figure with long slender legs. I have got to understand my gene pool.

I exercise. I do. I don’t try to run anymore, the doctor told me I could stop that nonsense because it truly hurts my damaged knees. But I walk, I do cardio and yoga, I just laid almost an entire pallet of grass by myself. I do bicep curls with rocks and tricep dips on benches. I am as active as my poor joints will allow. I will always try to do more and do it better, but for this moment, with a show just behind me and a faire season three days away, I am doing my best.

I eat fairly well. Could I cut a few carbs? Yes. Could I reduce my wine intake? Probably. But if I am honest with myself, I don’t want to. I don’t have wine every night, but some nights (like last Saturday) I have too much. I know exactly how many donuts I have had this year (for the record, it’s four and a half, so I still get another one and a half in 2015). I rarely have big dessert, but I do allow myself a few shortbread cookies or vanilla wafers every once in a while. I eat salads, but yesterday I had a kids sized mushroom Swiss burger. Because here’s the thing: I honestly believe good food and drink are one of life’s pleasures. Like a beautiful cloud formation lit with a setting sun, or puppy breath, or baby toes, or hugs, or trees (or hugging trees for that matter, which I have in fact, done), food is good. It is part of what makes it wonderful to be human.

Not for me the diet shakes and rice cakes. Life is too precious. Does that mean I eat all of it, every time I want it, in unlimited portions? No. But I eat some. Occasionally.

See, I am going to do a thing that is very brave for me. I am going to publicly say what pants size I wear: a 10. Mostly- today, my pants were size 8. Eight years ago, I was wearing sizes 6-8 in everything, but when I injured my neck, that went to a size 8-10, and there I have stayed. It’s the largest I have been, ever, except when pregnant.

For some people, a size 10 would be their dream size. For others, they will never own pants this big. For me, this seems to be where my middle aged self has landed.

When I see myself in the mirror, I see a healthy looking mom, until I look at photos.

BUT, DAMMIT, I DON”T WANT TO NOT LOVE PHOTOS OF MY LIFE JUST BECAUSE I THINK I LOOK PLUMP! MY LIFE IS ACTUALLY PRETTY WONDERFUL.

The trauma inducing photo from Saturday night!
The trauma inducing photo from Saturday night!

So here is what I propose: All photos of myself will be looked at through a filter of love. I will be grateful for the experiences being photographed. I was having a blast with my darling husband and awesome friends Saturday night. I was laughing and dancing my fool head off. That must be my photo filter. Not Toaster or 1977 or Earlybird- just me being grateful for a body that is pretty healthy, that can climb around and lift stuff, that can hug my loved ones, that houses me in all my weird, neurotic glory.

Not one more minute of today will be wasted on worrying about my body shape. Only joy. And maybe a shortbread cookie for good measure.

*This is part of an ongoing series in my journey, today is the first time I am posting publicly. We’ll see how it goes!

Wee Magics and the Most Potent Magic

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Living a fairy life is a little tricky. Unless you work in a forest or art studio, wearing wings and glitter is probably not feasible, and answering your boss in chirps, bubbles, or ocarina melodies isn’t particularly conducive to an efficient workplace (even if your full time job is at a ren faire). So you have to find magic in smaller, less obtrusive places.

I like to find magic in nature. Walking on the Texas Renaissance Festival grounds, particularly in the Magic Garden, yields moments of magic every time, if I’m open to it.

This morning, an enormous dragonfly crossed my path, a fat bumblebee was pollinating trumpet vines, and sunlight dappled on little purple blossoms and stone benches. A little garter snake fled from me in the tall grass.

When I walked this morning, I didn’t put my ear buds in, so that I could listen to the birds. When I passed New Market Arbor, I inhaled a sweet smell of flowering vines.

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Really, little doses of magic can be found anywhere, if I’m looking: a tiny, tiny feather on the ground, a broken but beautiful dragon fly wing in my drought devastated back yard, wind chimes outside my bedroom window, my dachsund’s tummy. All of those things bring me joy and remind me of the magic that’s in the world.

I think I can also find magic in other, unexpected places: books, music, laughter with people I love, delicious food, wine, and shortbread cookies.

Honestly, though, I think the best place for me to find magic is also the place I tend most to overlook. It’s in my sweet husband’s love for me. After thirty years together, twenty eight of them married, we are pretty comfortable with each other. It’s easy to glance past each other, to listen with half an ear to one another’s opinions, predictions, worries, and dreams. We think we have heard it before. And often we have. But there is nothing more magical than being completely and wholly loved by another, and taking the time to hold hands and really look into that love’s eyes.

Yesterday, I watched a video that is circulating on Facebook. A man in his nineties sings “You’ll Never Know” to his wife, who lay dying in a hospital bed. Their love language transcended deafness, feeble vocals, and poor eyesight. The room was rich and redolent with love as magical as any fairy dust, as any rainbow.

Photo by Tanya Tarvin
Photo by Tanya Tarvin

Love is magic. It’s the best magic. Whether romantic, familial, or platonic, love scatters bits of enchantment wherever it is present.

Many call this “God.” I do believe love is Divine. It is a gift from the One who loves us and hopes that we will share that love.

Look for magic today. Love someone who needs it. Care for the earth. Rescue an animal. Hug a child or elderly person. Watch a sunset. Be thankful. Namaste.

Skeletor or Staypuft?

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I find myself in a corner. A prison of my own construction.

I want to take a moment to talk about weight. I know this is not an original topic, nor will my message be a great revelation. But I am okay with that, because I think we just have to keep talking about this. We have to own what we have done to women in this country, and that takes constant, repetitive chipping away at the wall.

Yesterday, I went to the preview of a show my husband has been working on, a 1920’s murder mystery at the Prohibition Club in downtown Houston. Prohibition is the home of the Moonlight Dolls, a premiere burlesque troupe. Their photo is below. Look at them. They are all beautiful. And after weeks of rehearsing with them, my husband says they have body image issues, too. What the hell is wrong with us?

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I knew it was going to be a rough afternoon for me. About ten minutes into dinner, after watching a tiny twenty-something girl in a cute, wee outfit spin on a trapeze, then having four tiny twenty-somethings do the Charleston in g-strings and bandeau tops, I fled to the bathroom, where I sobbed on a toilet for pretty much the remainder of the show.

When I emerged from the stall, I found a large woman bent over the sink, eyes squeezed shut, breathing deeply. She, too, looked traumatized. She finally stood up, squared her shoulders, and went back to her table. I didn’t. I stood in the lobby and read a novel on my Kindle.

There’s a tape that plays in my head, almost constantly. It goes something like this:

“You shouldn’t eat that…suck in your stomach…look how thin that lady is…I bet she has more self control…I bet she is more lovable…how many minutes have I exercised this week so far?” You get the picture. I count calories on an app and worry if I forget to enter something.

When I was a kid, I remember two media moments that embedded themselves profoundly in my psyche. The first was the Special K ad campaign “Can You Pinch an Inch?” The commercials showed people playfully pinching their tummies,and if they had more than an inch of pudge, they needed to go on a diet. For a twelve year old girl approaching puberty, that dangerous message sank its claws deeply. I understood that my body must stay thin to be acceptable. The second media moment came when Cosmopolitan magazine declared that thighs must not touch, and featured an article in which perfectly lovely women who were at healthy weights were shown at a ten pound weight loss, and trumpeted for how much more beautiful they were after that weight loss.

Cosmo

I was not getting affirmation from my family when it came to weight or looks. When I tried to get my mother to tell me if I was pretty, I was told I was shallow and vain for wondering about my looks, when maybe a simple compliment for an insecure girl would have done a world of good. When I was about thirteen, I remember I hugged my maternal grandma and when I told her how much I loved hugging her, her reply was something like, “I’m fat.” when I protested, she told me that my grandfather would love her more if she could just lose twenty pounds. How’s that for a message about weight’s affect on your worth?

One time, though she didn’t think I could hear, my other grandmother, while looking at pictures I had just had made and was so proud of, commented that I looked like I had put on about ten pounds (I was fifteen and wore a size eight, which would now be a 4).

In drill team, we had to weigh in once weekly, and the officers were allowed to know our weights. I was always on the cusp of being sidelined, at 5’6″ and 128 pounds. In my freshman year of college, the coed p.e. instructor, a man, did a caliper test on all of us, in front of everyone, and declared me “obese” on my form. I weighed 135 pounds and wore a size 8.

A photo from the shoot when I had gained a few pounds!
A photo from the shoot when I had gained a few pounds!

You see, I was coming of age in the 1980’s, when Jane Fonda was everywhere and Karen Carpenter was the first celebrity to die of anorexia. Now there are scholarly articles on the prevalence of weight loss articles and images in the media in the ’80’s and what effect it was having on women’s body image. Health was out, thin was in.

(Fittingly, while proofing this post, I heard a commercial for Medifast “Be the best version of you!” on Pandora. It’s everywhere and all the time, I tell you.)

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I have never, ever been able to shake the worry about my weight. I worked as a fitness instructor through my twenties, and spent most of my thirties teaching beginning dance to eighth graders. Now, after one knee surgery, a severely sprained ankle, a possible rotator cuff injury, and a spinal surgery that removed two cervical discs and replaced them with a steel plate, I still work out as hard as my body will let me. I hurt, but I keep trying, because I want to be thin. I have ten pounds that I keep gaining and losing, but it’s always the same ten pounds. I will lose it, it will come back. Thankfully, though, it’s only the ten. I don’t lose ten then gain back twelve. I have been wearing the same size for five years now, an 8 or ten, depending on fit. (In the interest of full disclosure, I did have to buy a dress in a 12 recently. Stupid boobs. It’s too big around the waist, but I had to have the room at my chest!)

I tried my hardest to instill healthy messages to my two daughters about their own bodies. I knew how much I craved doses of reassurance when I was young. I fear my own insecurities rendered me a hypocrite, but I did try. Kate Winslet, an exquisitely beautiful and gifted actress, was recently cited on Huffington Post: “I was chubby, always had big feet, the wrong shoes, bad hair,” Winslet told Bear Grylls during an episode of his NBC show ‘Running Wild With Bear Grylls’ that aired Tuesday. “When I grew up, I never heard positive reinforcement about body image from any female in my life. I only heard negatives. That’s very damaging because then you’re programmed as a young woman to immediately scrutinize yourself and how you look…I stand in front of the mirror and say to Mia [her 14 year old daughter], ‘We are so lucky we have a shape. We’re so lucky we’re curvy. We’re so lucky that we’ve got good bums.’ And she’ll say, ‘Mummy, I know, thank God.’ It’s paying off.”

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There has to be a place between Skeletor and Stay-Puft for this woman in her 40’s (child of the 80’s pop culture reference!) If I get too thin, my face looks drawn and skeletal, if I am too heavy, I look puffy and unhealthy. I must find the balance. More importantly, I need to change the tapes that play in my brain. I need to stop looking at myself in the mirror and castigating myself. And though I haven’t carved the word “FAT” into my own thigh with a pair of scissors since 2009, I still recite it to myself in a million ways every day.  It’s time to move forward, to come out of hiding in the bathroom stall, to see myself for what is deeper than cellulite, and to be grateful for my healthy, strong body. Hell yeah, I can pinch an inch. What of it?

I found this wonderful blog by a sociologist who spent a year without mirrors. She researches how body image affects women, and spent a year living without a mirror. I intend to spend lots of time at her site!

http://www.ayearwithoutmirrors.com/

Pudding. Can’t have any.

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In her book Yes,Please Amy Phoeler writes a chapter about nominations. Not presidential nominations, award nominations. Specifically, Emmy nominations. In the chapter titled “Gimme That Pudding,” She uses “pudding” as a code word for those awards- SAGS, Emmys, Oscars, Tonys, Grammys, etc.

In Yes, Please, Amy (I call her Amy because I think she is my long-lost best friend) talks about a year when she was nominated for an Emmy but didn’t win:

“The following year I was breast-feeding a six-week-old Abel. I was too tired to think of bits but my hormones were telling me to just jump onstage and grab the award before they announced the winner. Luckily I had enough oxytocin floating around in my body that I didn’t care or notice who won. (Edie Falco.) Jimmy Fallon hosted and crushed. I sat in the front row and heckled the after-party with what Tina referred to as my impressive ‘temporary rack.’ I broke my toe on the banquette I was dancing on. That’s right. ON. I acted like the blue-collar party machine I had been raised to be.”

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I love her description of the appetite for pudding- you didn’t have a craving, you don’t even know you want pudding. Until suddenly it’s there in front of you, and everyone else seems to be having some. But you’re not allowed. Then suddenly all you want is a big ass bowl of the creamy, yummy, sweet pudding.

In my world, there are a couple of bowls of pudding, and this week one of them released this year’s nominations. I didn’t get one. All of my regular social circle did (If they were eligible).

This particular bowl of pudding is the community theatre flavor. It’s kind of weird, like tapioca pudding. Made up of lots of regular folks who work regular jobs and do theatre as a hobby, it’s meant to be a great refuge for the world-weary artist. Quite a number of us have theatre degrees or experience in the professional regional theatres, but also there are lots of folks who don’t have credentials but bring lots of  talent and/or passion to the proverbial boards.

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I consider myself an artist, a creative type who is, essentially, not competitive. After years in my educational theatre world, in a large Texan metropolitan area, I became disenchanted with the concept of student actors and technicians competing against others for accolades. In the educational theatre arena, kids come from all different walks of life. Some start way ahead of the game because their families have abundant education and resources and can put little Sally or Sam in dance, voice, and actor training when they are small. In my particular school, however, parents were often struggling just to afford a roof and shoes for the kids. Dance lessons and participation in a student musical that cost $300-$500 was not in their universe. Not even close. We participated for several years in my other big bowl of pudding, a competition in which high school musicals were pitted against each other for trophies and bragging rights. Invariably, the acting, production, and overall gold shinies went to the big schools, the mammoth ones with thousands (I am not exaggerating) of kids in the student bodies, hundreds of kids in the fine arts departments, huge parent booster organizations, and budgets of upwards of $20,000. Those schools also had very well connected directors. Insiders, ya know? We did get technical nominations four out of five years, and I was over the moon when I received my one nomination for directing.

But after it was all over, I felt so disappointed for my students. And yes, for myself. I knew how hard we had worked: the many hours of teaching a dance chorus in which no member had ever had a day in a dance class, the late nights sewing costumes myself because there was no one else to do it, the remarkable voice teacher who worked without pay, the kids who could only rehearse on certain days because of the limitations of their family’s gas budget. Nominations and medals don’t account for that stuff.

I withdrew from any further involvement in the competition. I wanted to just focus on growth, on art, on teaching, on joy, without worrying about trophies.

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I believe community theatre should be the same way. We aren’t in it for the money, heaven knows. We are in it for love of the work. For love of our cast and crew mates. For love of our towns. The directors who are going to do their best work are going to do it, whether they get a trophy or not. Same for the actors, or the ones wielding needle and thread or hammer and nail.

In educational or community ensembles, when we creative theatre types pit ourselves against each other, relationships are damaged. The beauty of the work becomes tarnished. Confidence and the courage to take risks is eroded. Yes, ticket sales matter. Absolutely, the director has to do what’s best for the play. No, everyone doesn’t always make the cast list. But after weeks, even months, of work calls and late rehearsals, postshow photos with proud family members in the lobby, banged up knees and tired throats, the gleam of pride in a show well produced shouldn’t have to be validated by a trophy. The people who weren’t invited to the planning table shouldn’t be left outside the nomination circle (the people who are invited to the planning table shouldn’t be eligible for awards, either). Amy says: “You have to care about your work but not about the result. You have to care about how good you are and how good you feel, but not about how good people think you are or how good people think you look.”

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - FEBRUARY 19:  Actor Jon Hamm and actress Amy Poehler attends the 15th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards with presenting sponsor Lacoste at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 19, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for CDG)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA – FEBRUARY 19: Actor Jon Hamm and actress Amy Poehler attends the 15th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards with presenting sponsor Lacoste at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on February 19, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images for CDG)

Amy and Jon Hamm have hosted a “Losers Party,” at which the attendees who have won Emmys have to donate to charity to get in, but the losers get in free. My husband suggests that we do a big “Losers Toast” after our event this year, and the winners have to buy the losers drinks. And I say the nominees who lose can buy those of us who are just there for the ride drinks. Hey! I think I am onto something. I know which gal is getting the most plastered that night.

Cheers!

Note- I highly recommend Amy’s book. It’s a treasure. Rolling Stone thinks so, too, and here’s a link to the book on amazon:

http://www.rollingstone.com/tv/features/9-things-we-learned-from-amy-poehlers-yes-please-20141030?page=2

http://www.amazon.com/Yes-Please-Amy-Poehler/dp/0062268341

Pass On The Salt, Please

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I loved Sunday School when I was a child. Felt boards with figures of Bible characters were how I remember learning the stories of the good book, watching the sweet grandmotherly women manipulate these flat figures as they narrated the tales of Old Testament and New. And the puppets! Big mouth puppets made of felt with fuzzy acrylic or yarn hair that led us in church songs like “Blue Skies and Rainbows” or “Roll the Gospel Chariot.” I loved Sunday School, I really did. There was a story that always puzzled me, though, and that was the story of Lot’s wife.

You may not know this one: God has decided to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of its evil, and one Godly man remains. Lot and his family have been warned to flee the impending disaster and NOT TO LOOK BACK AS THEY LEAVE.

But Lot’s wife does. And God turns her into a pillar of salt. A freaking pillar of salt! As a child, I just didn’t understand why God would choose such a harsh punishment for simply wanting one last glance back at one’s home. The twin cities were corrupt and toxic, yes, but they were also familiar. They were home. I don’t know that I understood this until recently.

Let me explain:

I recently left my twenty year teaching career. I hadn’t really planned to. I finished my Master’s degree in my field (Theatre), I thought I had turned the corner on what had been an extremely difficult transition with a new principal, I had started the preparations for the coming school year’s production schedule. We had even started making the costumes for the planned fall production: a steampunk version of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Boom! On a Friday afternoon, upon arriving home from a week teaching drama camp, I learned that a position that I had been coveting for three years had magically become available: to be the School Days Coordinator for the Texas Renaissance Festival, the largest renaissance faire in the country, a faire I had worked at for fifteen years as an entertainer.

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I struggled with the decision for about ten days, then took a deep breath and resigned my teaching position. And ever since, I find myself looking back over my shoulder, wondering if I made the right choice, fretting that my replacement would not take good care of my program, at moments desperately missing those great core theatre kids, and sometimes wishing for the chance to direct something.

It’s crippling, really.

In moments of clarity, I remember that I felt like I was slowly suffocating from the workload.

I remember that for every wonderful kid who smiled and tried, there were four who spoke rudely or whose apathy was a line drawn in the ground of the battlefield that is the classroom.

I remember that my administration treated me like a child.

I remember that my voice was ragged, and my own creative endeavors outside of school nonexistent.

It was toxic. Maybe not always, and maybe not for everyone, but for me, my school and career had become a poisoned place.

I think the Divine One knows that to look back can hinder you until you carry that misery forward into the new life He has laid out in front of you. She knows it to the tune of salt. It is as though He refuses to allow you to carry that forward. It will keep those with you from travelling forward as they should. I don’t know why God chose such a drastic means of chastening Lot’s wife, but I am trying to remember that I do not want to become my own living salt statue, inert and crumbling, unable to connect with my husband, kids, or friends.

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I need to let go, and look forward to the blessings that await me on this new path:

Golf cart rides with my husband out on the verdant grounds of the renaissance festival, a renewed singing voice, time to write, respect from my boss, and work that is challenging on a large scale.

Walking away does not make me a loser. Setting down a burden that is smothering is not a failure. Life is not only struggle, it is release.

Note: I was searching through my drafts and found this one. This very week marks one year since I started my new job. My replacement took good, if disorganized, care of my students. I still miss teaching, but I am getting better at looking ahead and dreaming of what possibilities might lie ahead. 

On Golden Pond

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This week, I began my journey to Golden Pond. I had seen the audition dates months ago, and in a rare case of wanting to do a show badly enough to make sure I remembered the dates, I put the audition dates on my calendar. Circumstances out of my control took me out of town on the weekend of the audition dates, so I told myself that I clearly was not meant to do the show, that I had never worked with this director, so he probably wouldn’t cast me anyway, that my high school reunion conflicted with one of the show dates so I would just go to my reunion instead, that the 45 minute drive to the theatre was too much trouble.

Then I found out auditions had been postponed for a week.

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I spent several days reciting all the reasons above and skipped the first night of auditions. On Monday, I posted on Facebook about my struggle and asked for advice: audition or high school reunion? The overwhelming response was “Audition!” So I did. Most of my friends are theatre folks, they totally get how doing a show can trump just about anything, and my high school and college friends know that I have always been a performer first, so they probably weren’t too surprised!

Auditions are hard for me. I don’t get stage fright on opening night, but at auditions I can barely breathe and I keep having to dash to the ladies’ room. Auditions are scary because you’re being judged, you may not have seen the script, you’re sometimes partnered with folks who are not helping you be your best, and if it’s an open audition, everybody there is watching.

But I did pretty well, I thought. I remembered my Shurtleff guideposts, thought through the relationship/objective/obstacle/tactic mantra, and tried to use the breath like my teacher said to. If I ever felt disconnected from the character, Chelsea, I just visualized my mom. That did the trick.

On Tuesday, I tried not to strain to hear the ring of my phone. It didn’t ring the entire day at work, nor on the drive home. When it finally did ring, I missed the call! I called the stage manager back, and she asked if I could come for a call back.

Last night’s call back was nerve wracking: me and one other lovely lady, both reading with the actress who had been cast as Ethel, the mother. My competition was pretty, tall and willowy with a sharp pixie cut and a cute dress. I recited my mantra while she did her reading, then went on stage.

Magic happens on stage. True magic. If you’re an actor, you know that sensation. Suddenly, the story takes over. If it’s a good script, the playwright’s words dig deep and a well of emotion springs forth. Sometimes laughter, sometimes tears. If you’re lucky enough to be on stage with actors who know how to connect with their scene partners, it’s exhilarating. I was lucky.

Last night, after I got the call that I had been cast, I got a Facebook message from my stage father saying he was looking forward to the show. He and I used to work together teaching theatre, and it was a rough relationship. I am both excited and nervous about that- this play may be instrumental in closing that chapter.And I just got off the phone with my stage mommy, a local actress I have wanted to share the stage with for quite some time. She wanted to let me know how excited she is that we are going to be working together. It’s always nice to work with folks who are giving.

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I am looking forward to working on this script. My relationship with my own father was not fraught with the antagonism and misunderstandings that Norman and Chelsea face. But my mother’s relationship with her own father was. She was ever the little girl, trying to be pretty and thin enough to please him, still chasing softballs to earn his praise until she just couldn’t physically play any more. I think this play will help me get into my poor, damaged, addicted, deceased mom’s head and heart just a little.

I bet I’ll cry more than once. And I think I will learn something about myself. I think Ethel’s words to embittered Chelsea will resonate deeply for me:

“Don’t you think that everyone looks back on their childhood with a certain amount of bitterness and regret about something?  It doesn’t have to ruin your life.”

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Plays can heal. Relationships can be mended. Hearts can be opened. Family can be made. Right, fellow Thayers and Thespians? I love what actress Juliet Binoche says about the power of theatre to create connections:”Choosing to be in the theatre was a way to put my roots down somewhere with other people. It was a way to choose a new family.”

What’s coming? I don’t know. Late rehearsals, exhaustion, sweat, tears, bright lights, these I know will happen. But there’s a whole world of exploration, revelation, and love to come.

Somewhere between Laurie and Aunt Eller

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Anyone out there seen the classic and hilarious film, “Waiting for Guffman?” It is the perfect spoof of the unique world of community theatre. Travel agents, a Dairy Queen cashier, and a dentist all come together to create a piece of performance art for the delight of local citizens. In community theatre, a bunch of oddballs can become minor celebrities, recognized at the Piggly Wiggly like local versions of Patti Lupone or Hugh Jackman.: “Didn’t I see you in…?” “Why, yes! yes, I did play Rosie in Bye, Bye, Birdie! It was so much fun, thank you for coming to support us!”

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Rosie Alvarez, Bye Bye Birdie, Ace Theatre, 2006

I love community theatre. It’s chock-a-block full of regular folks who love theatre, but for whatever reason, don’t make it a profession. For some (like me), marriage and stability were a better option than the gamble of New York, Chicago, or L.A. For others, they discover their creative side later in life and volunteering at their local community theatre is the most accessible route to artistic expression. For others, the community theatre becomes a surrogate family, a place to let your quirky imagination out to play without the judgement of straitlaced cubicle mates.

I have spent most of my adult life in rehearsal at the community theatre house for one musical or another. In my 30’s, I had the chance to play dream roles like Marian the Librarian, Sarah Brown, Julie Jordan, Nellie Forbush, and Annie Oakley. I have sung the great ballads, from “Moonshine Lullaby” (Annie Get Your Gun) to “How Could I Know” (Secret Garden). I’ve performed Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Berlin, and Sondheim.

Moving into my 40’s, the roles began to be harder to come by, though I have had the utter joy of playing The Chaperone (Drowsy Chaperone) and Joanne (Company). Community theatres like to play it safe. They have aging audiences, and they are afraid of alienating them. Chestnuts by Rodgers/Hammerstein or Lerner/Loewe are proven ticket sellers. I get that, I really do. But younger audiences (and by younger, I mean 55 on down- not exactly spring chickens) like to see shows written sometime after 1980. I know- it’s radical to imagine doing a show that’s got thirty years on it, instead of sixty!

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The Drowsy Chaperone, Stage Right Theatre, 2013

Interesting roles for women in their 40’s and 50’s are being written. Roles full of interesting character, gripping dilemmas, heartache and humor, and problems that don’t always find resolution in a wedding march. Dammit, there are great roles in musical theatre for women who are somewhere between Laurie and Aunt Eller: no longer the ingenue, but not ready for the granny wig.

Of course, all musical theatre aficionados recognize Mama Rose, Miss Mona, Adelaide, and Miss Hannigan. Gypsy, Best Little Whorehouse, Guys and Dolls, and Annie are community theatre staples. Wonderful shows. Tried and true. Worn and exhausted, some might say. Cliche, even.

Hollywood has long had a problem with this, constantly forcing women in their 40’s to play the discarded wives, or heaven help us, the mothers to their forty-something male counterparts. But the stage has always been willing to take risks on women in their middle age, when their talent is ripe, their life experience rich, and their voice in its prime.

So as a forty-something actress/singer who longs to play great roles, maybe even alongside actresses in her own age bracket, I present the following list of musicals for the local community theatres to take a look at. They are great shows, they will sell tickets, they will capture new audiences, and they will excite your theatre ensembles. As an added bonus, they feature major roles for women in the middle:

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Light in the Piazza: Margaret Johnson is a mother visiting Italy with her developmentally delayed daughter. Her marriage is dying as her daughter falls in love with a young Italian dreamer. The vocal score is exquisite, the emotional journey heart wrenching.

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Kiss Me, Kate: Lilli Vanessi is an aging star. She gets to sing “I Hate Men” as Kate, and “So In Love” as Lilli. It’s Cole Porter and Shakespeare combined. The 1999 revival ran for two years and received numerous Tony nominations and several awards. It’s a crowd pleaser!

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Mamma Mia has three (!!!) fantastic roles for women in their 40’s. They don’t have to be movie star gorgeous with size 2 figures! They still get to be fun and sexy! With a score built upon the songbook of Abba, it’s got a guaranteed fanbase.

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Ragtime is just the most beautiful musical. And it’s got fantastic roles for all sorts: age, color, body type, vocal range; it’s all there. Including a plum role, Mother, a woman who discovers that her sheltered life is not fulfilling and takes the plunge into uncharted territory.

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Nine to Five is not necessarily a masterpiece of the Broadway cannon, but with the popularity of the movie and name recognition among those over forty, its catchy numbers and physical comedy are sure to be popular.

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Next to Normal’s Diana Goodman is bipolar. Not exactly the feel-good premise that community theatres often go for. But this story is contemporary, relevant, and resonant. The music, a rock score, reverberates long after the notes have faded. For a theatre that takes risks, this one is a powerful choice.

I did a little reading on roles for women over 40, here are a couple of articles/blogs I found that had good stuff to say:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/theater/24cohe.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://thefilmexperience.net/blog/2013/10/21/hollywood-is-mean-to-older-women-lets-help-them-with-a-chart.html

Sing Out, Louise?

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A few weeks ago, I went to a Bette Midler concert. It was everything I hoped it would be. The Divine Miss M is still in full voice, wears fabulous costumes, tells filthy jokes, and even appears as Winifred! Nearly at the end of the concert comes the big one, the one I have been waiting for all night. She warns everyone not to sing along because there is room for only one diva in the arena (though we got to sing along at the chorus). She starts singing, “Some say love…it is a flower…” and I am transported. But in the rapture is an equal measure of grief. Gut wrenching, heart swelling, breath halting grief.

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When I was in the eighth grade, I sang my very first solo in front of an audience: “The Rose.” It was for my school’s talent show. I remember I was terrified: my parents and grandparents were there, the cafetorium lights were dark, the spotlight was blinding, and it felt like I couldn’t breathe. Then I heard the piano intro (you all know it, too: da-da-da-duh, da-da-da-duh) and I opened my mouth and sang. It was magical (well, for me, anyway).

I was in a new school and I was pretty shy, so I hadn’t made a whole lot of friends. But after this, suddenly people wanted to sit by me on the bus, and they would ask me to sing us home. Singing “Hopelessly Devoted to You” as we rounded corners dropping off crazy middle school students, I began to understand who I was meant to be: the singer.

I sang all through high school, competing for slots in choirs, musicals, and talent shows. I had a really beautiful voice, a clear Julie Andrews-styled soprano with a soaring range. I dreamt of being the next Barbra Streisand, or maybe a singer in New York. In college, I started as a voice major. I soon discovered that I was not meant to be a classical music major- I needed to sing show tunes and jazz standards. Musical theatre was really where I belonged.

But then I fell in love and got married, started a family, and kept singing when I could, mostly in community theatre shows, sometimes in churches, occasionally in choirs. I sang in lots of weddings. I sang “The Rose” for my grandfather’s wedding, then again at his funeral.

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I had a repertoire I sang to my kids when I put them to bed: “All the Pretty Little Horses,” “I Love you, fill-in-the-blank” from the musical Bye Bye Birdie, “You Are My Sunshine,” and “Goodnight, My Someone.” I think they liked it.

I don’t really sing much anymore. Though it is mostly healed now, I lost my voice for over a year, due to spinal surgery that paralyzed one of my vocal cords. Now I have a prosthetic one, so I can sing. But still, I don’t. Earlier this week, I wanted to change my profile picture on Facebook to a photo of me singing. I wanted to have a constant reminder to myself and others that that is who I am. I couldn’t find a picture of myself singing. Because I just don’t anymore.

I used to be asked to do singing gigs, but that has not happened in a long time. I don’t have little ones to sing to sleep. I don’t even sing in the car, because I am never alone in the car anymore!

What do you do when you find yourself mid-journey and a little lost? When you either need to go back and rediscover who you are or forge a new identity?

I hate drinking water.

WaterWho doesn’t love Jennifer Aniston? She’s the perfect woman. Perfect hair, sun kissed skin, and blinding white teeth atop a gorgeous red-carpet-ready physique. She drinks Smart Water. I know this because she does their ads. She tells me that if I drink Smart Water, I will look (oops- I mean be healthy) like her.

As I get older, I am trying really hard to rehabilitate all the bad health habits from my youth. Awful sun damage from my baby-oil-lying-in-the-kiddie-pool-baking-in-the-sun teenaged afternoons, eating orange slice candy on road trips or during stressful tech weeks at work, and not drinking enough water are top on this list.

I now wear sunscreen and a hat if I am by the pool, though I have not mastered that skill in other settings. These days I keep fruit or chocolate free trail mix nearby for stressful situations at work. And I keep count of my water intake on an smartphone app.

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I start my day with orange juice, no sense in ruining it from the very outset. I feel about orange juice like some do about coffee. I need it. I need its pretty color and its sugar and its promise of sunshine. I cut my serving size down to 4-6 sad little ounces. Metabolism shifts suck.

When I get to work, the chore begins. I fill up my sippy cup. I manage one 12 oz glass, all the while wishing for Diet Dr. Pepper. And don’t talk to me about health and Diet DP. I have looked at it, I know its brown color is all chemical and not nutritious. I don’t smoke or overeat or gamble. A woman’s gotta have one vice.

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I drink water at lunch, unless we go out for Tex-Mex. Only Diet Coke with lime or frozen margaritas go with Tex-Mex. If we eat at home and Travis is fixing the drinks, when he asks what I want, I answer “water” in a voice akin to a four year old having to take cough syrup.

Back at work, I refill my cup, telling myself if I can just finish this glass, I can treat myself to the rest of my Diet DP.

Once home, what I really crave is a glass of Pinot Grigio, but instead I fill a glass with…water. Then I work out (PiYo manages to make me thirsty for actual water), or I head out for a wog. That’s what my husband and I call the ridiculous practice of walking with terribly plodding jogs mixed in. I look so pitiful doing those. The other day I took a little rest while running at a golf course (Texas heat at 5:00 p.m. is no joke). A nice lady offered to drive me back to my house on her golf cart. She said something like “I am a runner, too, and even I had a hard time with this run last week.” I wanted to laugh because she mistook me for a runner, but I was afraid to waste the oxygen. I have a water bottle in my hand when I wog, otherwise I would perish. Really, exercise is about the only thing that can get me excited about water. And as I roll through another set of PiYo push ups, which are a special sort of torture, or try to lift my foot far enough off the pavement to jog, my mantra is “You are stronger than you think you are, and there’s a chilled bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge.”

After I get my 48-64 ounces in, I get my wine, and it is like having heaven in a glass after months in the desert.

Then I pee all night. That’s the horrible injustice of this thing. I am doing what I am supposed to, drinking the water, but then I wake up every hour to go to the toilet (that’s what my newly Aussie daughter calls it). I am sleep deprived, but hydrated, so tired and frustrated! But still…I drink the water.

Here are my coping techniques for meeting the daily H2O quota:

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1. Drink water out of a sparkly cup. Bling helps everything. Except those thick soled black foam flip flops Texas women wear. I hate those things.

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2. Drink with a straw. It’s easier to suck down the tasteless liquid that way. I can get 4 ounces down in one slurp, it would take me ten times as long to get that much down if I sipped it. Bonus points if the straw is twisty. Remember how fun it was to drink out of a Crazy Straw when you were a kid?

2. Spike it with stuff. No, not fruit infusions, though those can certainly take the edge off the blandness. No, I am thinking cranberry juice and VODKA.

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3. Promise yourself a treat when you hit your goal. As you can tell from reading above, Diet Dr. Pepper (during work) and vino are my treats of choice. You might like chocolate or a ten minute Netflix break to watch Magic Mike (though watching Magic Mike will get you all hot and bothered, then you’ll be thirsty, and you’ll have to drink more…wait for it…water).

4. Drop a Jolly Rancher into the bottom of the cup. It’ll flavor your water and you can eat it when you finish! Candy FTW!

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5. Freeze it, grind it, and squirt sugary colored juice on it. That’s a snow cone. Completely legit method of hydration delivery. Especially if doused with, you guessed it, VODKA.

Whoa! Just as I hit that last period, I finished my afternoon sippy cup! Time to go get the rest of my soda out of the fridge! Take this last word from me- it’s summer, so drink lots of whatever you love, preferably by a pool or lake with someone you love sitting nearby. Cheers!

By the way, if you’re interested in actual helpful ways to get more water, give this a look:

http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/blog/easy-ways-eat-more-water?sf39184943=1

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